Sunday, November 20, 2005

Big 12 lacks TV punch

In exposure-driven college football, broadcasts hinge on one thing: money


The decision is released every fall Monday by the Big 12 Conference, posted on its Web site and clicked to death by fans across the Midwest.

Three or four of that week's six scheduled conference football games are the big winners. Those teams will have the privilege of playing on television.

When the cameras come, so does priceless exposure - more fan interest is generated, media members can see more than just the box score in the Sunday newspaper, and recruits will tune in with curious minds and dancing dreams.

"TV is such a huge market," said Tim Beck, a KU assistant and former Texas high school coach. "Kids look at that and say 'Hey, I'm going to be on TV.' A lot of schools and universities use that (pitch) as well.

"In order to keep up with the Joneses, you've got to be able to have a little bit of that."

The problem? Kansas University hasn't had more than a "little bit" of TV exposure in recent years.

Often, in the last four seasons, the announcement of which Big 12 football teams earned a television spot for the upcoming week makes KU fans groan.


Brett Garland/Journal-World Photo Illustration

Brett Garland/Journal-World Photo Illustration

There are not enough TV sets in the Sunflower State. Not enough victories. Not enough tradition in Lawrence for the camera crews.

In all, there's plenty of reasons for KU to blame itself for being limited to four TV appearances in 2005, three in '04, two in '03 and one in '02.

But can the finger be pointed at the Big 12 television package, too? Consider another middle-of-the-road BCS-conference school, Indiana. The Hoosiers have a 4-6 record this year, and since 2002 are 12-33 overall and 4-26 in Big Ten play.

Their struggles go deeper than KU's. Indiana, though, has been on television 22 times through the Big Ten TV package during that span, compared to 11 for the Jayhawks. Seven Indiana games were national-cable telecasts. KU has had just two, the 2003 Tangerine Bowl and a 19-3 loss to Oklahoma earlier this season on TBS.

Conference TV breakdown

Breaking down the six BCS-affiliated conferences and their television packages:

Atlantic Coast TV partners: ABC (regional), ESPN (national), Jefferson-Pilot/Raycom (syndication) 2005 home games televised: 79.1 percent (57/72) Financial terms: Not disclosed. Worth noting: Had six weeks with every home game on television.

Big East TV partners: ABC (regional), ESPN (national), ESPN Plus (syndication) 2005 home games televised: 60.8 percent (28/46) Financial terms: Not disclosed. Worth noting: Conference had 10 home games played on weeknights to get more TV air time.

Big Ten TV partners: ABC (regional), ESPN (national), ESPN Plus (syndication) 2005 home games televised: 92.7 percent (64/69) Financial terms: Not disclosed. Worth noting: Three additional games were shown on ESPN 360, an Internet service.

Big 12 TV partners: ABC (regional), Fox Sports (national and regional), TBS (national). 2005 home games televised: 53.3 percent (40/75) Financial terms: Not disclosed. Worth noting: Nearly 63 percent of conference games were televised.

Pac-10 TV partners: ABC (regional), Fox Sports (national), TBS (national). 2005 home games televised: 54.0 percent (33/61) Financial terms: Total rights fees are roughly $32 million. Worth noting: Package nearly mirrors the Big 12's in terms of partners, exposure.

Southeastern TV partners: CBS (national network), ESPN (national), Jefferson-Pilot (syndication), Fox Sports (regional). 2005 home games televised: 58.4 percent (45/77) Financial terms: Not disclosed, but $45.4 million from package given to member institutions. Worth noting: SEC is the only conference signed with CBS, so the weekly SEC game on CBS is nationally televised.

Do Jayhawks fans have the right to be steamed? As far as quantity of telecasts go, the Big 12 is out of medal contention among the six BCS-affiliated conferences, only getting about 53 percent of its home games on the air in 2005.

Like seemingly anything associated with big-business college athletics, one word rules all in the conference TV wars: money.

Exclusive windows

TV-package rights by conference are for home games, which covers every intra-conference matchup and all of the home nonconference games.

The classic matchup between Texas and Ohio State earlier this season was televised through the Big Ten package because the game was in Columbus, Ohio. Next year's clash in Austin, Texas, will be part of the Big 12 package.

That in mind, the percentage of home games televised by conference vary wildly. Among the six BCS conferences, the Big 12 joins the SEC, Pac-10 and Big East in playing catch-up.

Big 12 teams will play 75 home games this year, and just 40 are on free television. Of the 48 conference games, 30 are televised.

How does it compare? The Big Ten is the envy of all conferences, having 64 of 69 home games televised (92.7 percent). In addition, all but two Big Ten conference games will be a national-cable telecast, a regional telecast on ABC or a syndicated regional telecast through ESPN Plus. The remaining two games are shown on ESPN 360, an Internet service.

"It wasn't done overnight," Big Ten associate commissioner Mark Rudner said of the exposure. "We've had football on television in this conference for years and years and years. Each new contract is built on top of an old one."

The Big Ten agreed to a 10-year deal in 1996 for its current TV package. The league's ties are with the ESPN family and ABC, which are owned by the same company. Because of that, Big Ten games often are shown simultaneously - a rarity in college football.

"They approach it from the total-eyeballs theory," Big 12 associate commissioner Tim Allen said. "Their thinking is that the cost of production will be offset by the number of eyeballs.

"The Big Ten (region) has 22 percent of the nation's households," Allen said. "(Their thinking is) 'We'll show an ESPN game, an ESPN2 game and a regional game and lock up as much of that 22 percent that we can to lock up better ratings.'"

Most of the other conferences have to worry about keeping three-hour slots exclusive, including the Big 12. In a typical week, the Big 12 will have televised games at 11:30 a.m. on Fox Sports regional, 2:30 p.m. on ABC regional and 6 p.m. on either Fox Sports Net or TBS. Those times prevent overlapping, which could cause unwanted competition between the Big 12's TV partners.

"The networks pay for the exclusivity," Allen said. "That's something they cherish very much."

National television

Like the Big 12, the SEC generally has only three or four games air on Saturday, too. But SEC associate commissioner Charles Bloom gushes over the package because of the quality of coverage in those three windows.

The SEC is the only conference to have national-network telecasts on CBS after the network pursued college football a decade ago upon losing the NFL to NBC. Eventually, CBS got the NFL back for Sundays. But SEC games still air at 2:30 p.m. Saturday for the nation to see.

"We're guaranteed a national game each week," Bloom said. "That's a great tool for us to expose the Southeastern Conference. CBS Sports has been a tremendous partner."

SEC also has one or two weekly games on ESPN and ESPN2, as well as a syndicated game through Jefferson-Pilot in the morning.

Overall, the SEC will have 31 games nationally broadcast in 2005. The Big 12, meanwhile, will have 11 games ticketed for national cable on TBS and Fox Sports this year, which included KU's game with Oklahoma on Oct. 15. Usually, the weekly 11:30 a.m. game shown on Fox Sports touches several of FSN's affiliates nationwide, but it isn't considered a national-cable telecast. Nine of KU's 11 televised regular-season games in the Mark Mangino era have been in this window.

In addition, though ABC is a national network and a couple of Big 12 games each year are national telecasts, all games through the network generally are shown in one of three or four zones at the same time as other games. Last weekend's KU-Texas game, for example, was shown in about 18 percent of the nation's homes, mostly in the states with a Big 12 school.

The future

The immediate future of Big 12 football on television will mirror recent history.

The conference has separate contracts with its broadcast partners. The ABC deal wraps up in 2007, while the Fox Sports and TBS contracts don't expire until 2011.

For the most part, Big 12 TV coverage will be similar to this season.

"That doesn't mean," Allen said, "that the Big 12 doesn't analyze, virtually on a monthly basis, ways to help our television partners enhance their revenue while enhancing our exposure."

The conference has experimented with Internet telecasts, and pay-per-view options for conference games are available if the kickoff time doesn't interfere with ABC's three-hour window.

But the area Allen said could lead to more exposure was split regional telecasts of the early Fox Sports game. For example, the Nov. 5 game televised in the morning was Baylor versus Texas. Fox Sports had the right to show that on Fox Sports Southwest and a Big 12 North game on Fox Sports Midwest.

"They have the capability to do that," Allen said, "but it has to make sense for them financially to do that. It costs an awful lot to produce a game."

It all returns the bottom line, which Allen understands, saying "the television networks, they need to have the right to make money."

But every week Kansas or Missouri or Kansas State fails to get its name in the TV Guide, another week of frustration piles on for its viewing-hungry fan base.

Allen understands that, too. But the underexposed Big 12 teams might be forced to play their way onto TV.

"Do we wish we could get them all on? Yes," Allen said. "But it has to make sense for everybody."


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